Theatre Company: Brite Theatre
Cast: Emily Carding
Plot: Bitter humpback Richard of Gloucester (Carding) plots against the throne, using anyone and everyone as a pawn in a cruel game.
The audience are ferried into a dark room. Two rows of chairs facing each other present them, creating an instant breaking down of your personal space. In the distance, sits Emily Carding, watching us from the shadows, in the role she has been performing for what feels like an eternity. We sit and wait for her to decide when the show begins, the minutes stretching into what feels like hours. It proves one point: we are all under her control.
Thus begins a telling of Richard III like never before. The familiar beats are still there with a loathing Duke hating upon the crown and plotting against the throne. Every new character is essentially a red shirt, a person waiting to be thrown under the bus, in order to get Richard ever closer to his unwavering desire. Yet with Emily Carding’s one woman telling of the iconic play, the dread of the story is multiplied tenfold. Lacking a supporting cast to bounce off of, Carding employs the audience to play each part. Armed with placards designed to dangle from the audience’s necks, she begins her performance by selecting which audience members should play whom. The tension in the room is almost unbearable, as Carding circles her waiting victims, wondering if you will be gifted with playing a potential bride, an unwitting sibling or a irksome bastard heir. For one, it proves the point that this really is a one character show. The play holds up surprisingly well, Carding able to carry the story onwards even when her supporting cast are too petrified to speak up. If anything, the story is liberated with this freedom, no longer weighed down with the need to develop anyone but the principal player. And as you realise you are becoming the supporting cast, the intimacy of the story becomes painfully clear. You are now the victims of the events of this story, creating an experience arguably more immersive than any that have come before it. The tension fills the room, fear pounding in your eardrums. When Richard III cracks a joke about taking down the King, you laugh, partially at the well-timed quip, but also to save your own skin. When you are not in her cross-hairs, you are the bully’s best friend, laughing along with the insults, praying that worming up to her means that you might escape her wraith. You probably won’t. My palms were sweaty throughout the entire performance and you cannot help but attempt to recall a theatre experience that has the ability to have such an effect on you. You aren’t just watching the play, but wrapped up in it. Theatre shows are often called roller-coaster rides, but Brite Theatre have created a Richard III that genuinely feels like one. You are strapped into a ride you cannot escape until it is over and every moment of silence only adds to the fear of what is to come. Also, like a roller-coaster ride, as soon as it rocks to an end, you will likely rejoin the back of the queue to await another equally pulse-pounding go.
Immersive experiences like this require an actor brave enough to handle the work. So much could go wrong. A Lady Anne might refuse to meekly accept a proposal; a dead body might refuse to stay silent. But there is never one moment where it feels like Emily Carding is losing control. You almost want to heckle her, because you are sure that she has already prepared a smart put-down to put you back in your place. However, it is so much more than simply watching a host, carefully making sure the immersive tour stays on track. When the play needs to fall back on some good old-fashioned acting, Carding delivers. Even when she is silent, she is captivating, staring into each member’s eyes for an uncomfortably long time, gloriously clawing the most atmosphere out of a scene. The ending is an emotional blast, the kind of spectacle that you go to Shakespeare plays to see. There is also the inevitable feminist debates that come up with the casting of a female in a title male role. Surprisingly, only in afterthought does it become a discussion worth having. The truth is that as soon as Carding steps on-stage, you forget all about the rules of gender. Emily Carding is playing Richard III and what more is needed to be said on the matter. The performance is incredible; nuff said. It is unshowy feminism at its best, the kind of debate that is best served by a knowing nod, rather than a philosophical rambling. Talking about it almost robs it of its effect. It is the kind of new wave theatre that should be accepted, not argued with. And with shows that are as unashamedly confident as this one, it doesn’t seem like a massive stretch of the imagination to picture this trend as the done thing.
Final Verdict: There are many Richard III’s but never up so close. A gripping personal experience that emotionally shakes you. A sadly rare experience these days.